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Runzhe Wang, Sadhika Malladi, Tianhao Wang, Kaifeng Lyu, Zhiyuan Li

Momentum is known to accelerate the convergence of gradient descent in strongly convex settings without stochastic gradient noise. In stochastic optimization, such as training neural networks, folklore suggests that momentum may help deep learning optimization by reducing the variance of the stochastic gradient update, but previous theoretical analyses do not find momentum to offer any provable acceleration. Theoretical results in this paper clarify the role of momentum in stochastic settings where the learning rate is small and gradient noise is the dominant source of instability, suggesting that SGD with and without momentum behave similarly in the short and long time horizons. Experiments show that momentum indeed has limited benefits for both optimization and generalization in practical training regimes where the optimal learning rate is not very large, including small- to medium-batch training from scratch on ImageNet and fine-tuning language models on downstream tasks.

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Xinran Gu, Kaifeng Lyu, Longbo Huang, Sanjeev Arora

Local SGD is a communication-efficient variant of SGD for large-scale training, where multiple GPUs perform SGD independently and average the model parameters periodically. It has been recently observed that Local SGD can not only achieve the design goal of reducing the communication overhead but also lead to higher test accuracy than the corresponding SGD baseline (Lin et al., 2020b), though the training regimes for this to happen are still in debate (Ortiz et al., 2021). This paper aims to understand why (and when) Local SGD generalizes better based on Stochastic Differential Equation (SDE) approximation. The main contributions of this paper include (i) the derivation of an SDE that captures the long-term behavior of Local SGD in the small learning rate regime, showing how noise drives the iterate to drift and diffuse after it has reached close to the manifold of local minima, (ii) a comparison between the SDEs of Local SGD and SGD, showing that Local SGD induces a stronger drift term that can result in a stronger effect of regularization, e.g., a faster reduction of sharpness, and (iii) empirical evidence validating that having a small learning rate and long enough training time enables the generalization improvement over SGD but removing either of the two conditions leads to no improvement.

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Jikai Jin, Zhiyuan Li, Kaifeng Lyu, Simon S. Du, Jason D. Lee

It is believed that Gradient Descent (GD) induces an implicit bias towards good generalization in training machine learning models. This paper provides a fine-grained analysis of the dynamics of GD for the matrix sensing problem, whose goal is to recover a low-rank ground-truth matrix from near-isotropic linear measurements. It is shown that GD with small initialization behaves similarly to the greedy low-rank learning heuristics (Li et al., 2020) and follows an incremental learning procedure (Gissin et al., 2019): GD sequentially learns solutions with increasing ranks until it recovers the ground truth matrix. Compared to existing works which only analyze the first learning phase for rank-1 solutions, our result provides characterizations for the whole learning process. Moreover, besides the over-parameterized regime that many prior works focused on, our analysis of the incremental learning procedure also applies to the under-parameterized regime. Finally, we conduct numerical experiments to confirm our theoretical findings.

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Arushi Gupta, Nikunj Saunshi, Dingli Yu, Kaifeng Lyu, Sanjeev Arora

Saliency methods compute heat maps that highlight portions of an input that were most {\em important} for the label assigned to it by a deep net. Evaluations of saliency methods convert this heat map into a new {\em masked input} by retaining the $k$ highest-ranked pixels of the original input and replacing the rest with \textquotedblleft uninformative\textquotedblright\ pixels, and checking if the net's output is mostly unchanged. This is usually seen as an {\em explanation} of the output, but the current paper highlights reasons why this inference of causality may be suspect. Inspired by logic concepts of {\em completeness \& soundness}, it observes that the above type of evaluation focuses on completeness of the explanation, but ignores soundness. New evaluation metrics are introduced to capture both notions, while staying in an {\em intrinsic} framework -- i.e., using the dataset and the net, but no separately trained nets, human evaluations, etc. A simple saliency method is described that matches or outperforms prior methods in the evaluations. Experiments also suggest new intrinsic justifications, based on soundness, for popular heuristic tricks such as TV regularization and upsampling.

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Kaifeng Lyu, Zhiyuan Li, Sanjeev Arora

Normalization layers (e.g., Batch Normalization, Layer Normalization) were introduced to help with optimization difficulties in very deep nets, but they clearly also help generalization, even in not-so-deep nets. Motivated by the long-held belief that flatter minima lead to better generalization, this paper gives mathematical analysis and supporting experiments suggesting that normalization (together with accompanying weight-decay) encourages GD to reduce the sharpness of loss surface. Here "sharpness" is carefully defined given that the loss is scale-invariant, a known consequence of normalization. Specifically, for a fairly broad class of neural nets with normalization, our theory explains how GD with a finite learning rate enters the so-called Edge of Stability (EoS) regime, and characterizes the trajectory of GD in this regime via a continuous sharpness-reduction flow.

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Sadhika Malladi, Kaifeng Lyu, Abhishek Panigrahi, Sanjeev Arora

Approximating Stochastic Gradient Descent (SGD) as a Stochastic Differential Equation (SDE) has allowed researchers to enjoy the benefits of studying a continuous optimization trajectory while carefully preserving the stochasticity of SGD. Analogous study of adaptive gradient methods, such as RMSprop and Adam, has been challenging because there were no rigorously proven SDE approximations for these methods. This paper derives the SDE approximations for RMSprop and Adam, giving theoretical guarantees of their correctness as well as experimental validation of their applicability to common large-scaling vision and language settings. A key practical result is the derivation of a $\textit{square root scaling rule}$ to adjust the optimization hyperparameters of RMSprop and Adam when changing batch size, and its empirical validation in deep learning settings.

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Kaifeng Lyu, Zhiyuan Li, Runzhe Wang, Sanjeev Arora

The generalization mystery of overparametrized deep nets has motivated efforts to understand how gradient descent (GD) converges to low-loss solutions that generalize well. Real-life neural networks are initialized from small random values and trained with cross-entropy loss for classification (unlike the "lazy" or "NTK" regime of training where analysis was more successful), and a recent sequence of results (Lyu and Li, 2020; Chizat and Bach, 2020; Ji and Telgarsky, 2020) provide theoretical evidence that GD may converge to the "max-margin" solution with zero loss, which presumably generalizes well. However, the global optimality of margin is proved only in some settings where neural nets are infinitely or exponentially wide. The current paper is able to establish this global optimality for two-layer Leaky ReLU nets trained with gradient flow on linearly separable and symmetric data, regardless of the width. The analysis also gives some theoretical justification for recent empirical findings (Kalimeris et al., 2019) on the so-called simplicity bias of GD towards linear or other "simple" classes of solutions, especially early in training. On the pessimistic side, the paper suggests that such results are fragile. A simple data manipulation can make gradient flow converge to a linear classifier with suboptimal margin.

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Zhiyuan Li, Yuping Luo, Kaifeng Lyu

Matrix factorization is a simple and natural test-bed to investigate the implicit regularization of gradient descent. Gunasekar et al. (2018) conjectured that Gradient Flow with infinitesimal initialization converges to the solution that minimizes the nuclear norm, but a series of recent papers argued that the language of norm minimization is not sufficient to give a full characterization for the implicit regularization. In this work, we provide theoretical and empirical evidence that for depth-2 matrix factorization, gradient flow with infinitesimal initialization is mathematically equivalent to a simple heuristic rank minimization algorithm, Greedy Low-Rank Learning, under some reasonable assumptions. This generalizes the rank minimization view from previous works to a much broader setting and enables us to construct counter-examples to refute the conjecture from Gunasekar et al. (2018). We also extend the results to the case where depth $\ge 3$, and we show that the benefit of being deeper is that the above convergence has a much weaker dependence over initialization magnitude so that this rank minimization is more likely to take effect for initialization with practical scale.

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